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Source: CNN.com
Date: January 16, 2003
Byline: Randy Pennell, AP

Plans for memorial near Liberty Bell under scrutiny

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) — The National Park Service presented a preliminary design for a monument near the Liberty Bell at a boisterous public meeting, where participants sounded off on how the monument would depict the role of slavery during the city's time as the nation's capital.

Plans to commemorate the Robert Morris House, home to George Washington and John Adams during their presidencies, have drawn sharp criticism since it was learned that the monument would be located near Washington's slave quarters.

Unlike the original plan for the executive mansion site, the design unveiled Wednesday incorporated a discussion of slavery and focused on the house where Washington kept slaves. The monument would also feature information about the history of Philadelphia's black population.

Still, activist groups and others attending the meeting at the African American Museum of Philadelphia weren't all pleased with the latest plan.

"You are missing a lot of history here," said Charles Blockson, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro American Collection at Temple University. Blockson mentioned, by name, people he said were slaves who had been kept in Washington's household.

The meeting got rowdy at times, with some participants accusing park officials of racism. Members of the largely black audience also suggested the site overlooked the role of free blacks in the Washington and Adams households.

Some at the meeting also raised questions about how the $4.5 million design would be funded.

Park service officials, meanwhile, said they were doing everything they could to make the project fair and accurate.

"This is something we would share with the public, so the public can see what the National Park Service is proposing in the design and in the text," acting park service director Dennis Reidenbach said.

The Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, a community group formed to promote a commemorative installation for Washington's slaves, expressed some concerns about the proposed design. But members of the coalition stressed the meeting was part of an ongoing process.

"This is a beginning, but without the diligence ... it won't be much," said Michael Coard, a member of the coalition.

The meeting Wednesday focused primarily on the content of the planned monument at the executive mansion. A final decision has not been made on the physical makeup of the monument.

The Liberty Bell became well-known in the 1840s when anti-slavery groups adopted it as a symbol of freedom.

 

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